Federal government wants permission to share grand jury testimony on militia moles in Governor Whitmer kidnapping plot case

It is a rare legal gesture.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has requested permission from a federal judge to share secret grand jury testimony regarding charges against six men accused of conspiring to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

The motion says that testimony would be given to the office of state attorney general Dana Nessel for the prosecution of eight other alleged kidnapping plotters who separately face state charges in Jackson and Jackson counties. Antrim.

The case involves the prosecution of 14 men, eight in state court and six in federal court, with ties to Michigan militias, including the Michigan Liberty Militia and Wolverine Watchmen. Suspects are accused of conducting military-style training sessions and monitoring Whitmer’s vacation home in an attempt to kidnap the governor or commit other acts of domestic terrorism against the Michigan government .

“During the grand jury investigation into this case, the government has taken the testimony of one or more witnesses and expects to question other witnesses,” said the federal court’s Jan. 22 petition to publish the testimony of the grand jury. “These witnesses have described and should describe their roles within militia groups and their involvement in the elements of the plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer, including their attendance at key training, planning and reconnaissance meetings. “

The request for disclosure of informant testimonies to the state attorney general’s office is an indication that such witnesses may also testify for prosecutors at a trial in state court. It is not clear from the petition filed by the U.S. prosecutor on Jan. 22 whether the request is to share only portions or all of the testimony.

Criminal defense attorney Anastase Markou of the law firm Levine and Levine, who has practiced federal criminal defense for 27 years, said he was unsure why the federal government wanted to provide the information to state prosecutors. because the state has “several other means” to do so. obtain the same information, including summons to witnesses.

“It’s an unusual process that’s going on right now,” Markou said. “I’ve never had that experience where there was a request from the federal government to disclose grand jury testimony to a state prosecutor – I’ve never seen it.”

A photo exhibit released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Grand Rapids that was shown during a two-day hearing for federally indicted suspects in an alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer (Courtesy: Office of United States Attorneys for the Western District of Michigan)

Grand juries are used in federal courts to secure felony charges against suspects. These are non-public hearings in which deputy U.S. prosecutors call witnesses and present evidence of alleged crimes to prove that there is a likelihood that a crime has been committed. The prosecution must obtain a vote to indict 12 of the 16 to 23 people assigned to the grand jury.

The suspect is not allowed to be present, there is no cross-examination and testimony or evidence remains secret after the hearing is over.

The US Constitution, however, requires the prosecution to disclose to the defense the testimony of any witnesses who testify at trial, Markou said.

The prosecution has “no obligation to provide each of the statements made”, he added, “only those which concern the guilt or innocence of the client, in particular with the witnesses who will testify at the trial”.

Markou believes that the prosecution’s ability under court rules to avoid full disclosure of grand jury proceedings “seriously hinders the defense’s ability to understand the whole case.”

While lawyers for the defendants can file a brief claiming the testimony remains secret, Markou said the release could benefit the defense.

“As a defense lawyer I want to know everything because I don’t want to be surprised,” he said, “and I want to be the one who decides what I want to use and what I don’t want. not used ; I don’t want anyone else to decide this.

One of the federal defendants, Ty Garbin, 25, January 27 pleaded guilty the crime of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and risks life imprisonment. The other federal defendants – Brandon Caserta, 33, of Canton; Barry Croft Jr., 44, of Bear, Delaware; Adam Fox, 37, of Wyoming; Kaleb Franks, 26, of Waterford; and Daniel Harris, 23, of Lake Orion – are scheduled to stand trial on March 23 in Grand Rapids U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Four suspects prosecuted in County Antrim – Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville; Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac; Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell; and William Null, 38, of Shelbyville – were due for a preliminary examination on February 17, but were given a 60-day adjournment on Thursday, February 5, with the new date for the preliminary examination pending.

Defense attorneys said they needed more time to review evidence that had yet to be released by the attorney general’s office. The expected information should be transmitted to the defense within two weeks.

Whitmer kidnapping plot

An exhibit released by the United States Attorney’s Office following a two-day hearing for several men charged with conspiracy to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer (Courtesy: United States Attorney’s Office)

Another indicted suspect in County Antrim, 52, is Brian Higgins, but is currently fighting extradition from his home in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.

The remaining state defendants, Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford and his roommates Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 26, of Munith, are charged in Jackson County and are due for a preliminary examination on 3 March.

According to documents filed by state and FBI courts, investigators found militia informants at the center of the kidnapping plot even before the plans took shape. The alleged plot was intended to start a “civil war”.

There was talk of trying Whitmer and leaving her in the middle of Lake Michigan in a broken down boat, according to FBI testimony. Suspects also considered blowing up a bridge near Whitmer’s house to slow the police response – and engage in crossfire with police.

Upset by coronavirus lockdown orders in place in Michigan and Virginia, the men are also accused of discussing the kidnapping of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

More on MLive:

“He can’t believe he got involved”

“Phantom weapons” seized during searches

Defense against citizen arrest is unlikely to fly

The links between the suspects in an alleged plot

Alleged kidnapping plot photos, video released

“Free Michigan,” Trump tweets

Whitmer said Trump incites ‘domestic terrorism’

City alarmed by the presence of a militia plot

Men trained with guns, explosives, neighbors say

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